Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

the sweetness at the bottom of the pie
alan bradley
c. 2010
347 pages
completed: 3/5/2013

read for: tbr pile

*may contain spoilers*

When Flavia de Luce finds a dying man in her cucumber patch early in the morning, she decides it's the most interesting thing to ever happen in her long eleven year old life. When that dead man is discovered to have old ties to her father, Flavia takes it upon herself to discover the truth. Could her father really be a murderer?

Until yesterday, I seriously hadn't finished a book since moving to Santa Barbara in September 2011. That's crazy. That's literally a year and a half! But now I can no longer say that's true and I'm so glad. I've tried a few times, claimed to be back, but I hope this time is really a true return to form.

Obviously I'm going to think any book that can pull me out of an 18 month slump is good. And to show my gratitude, I'm going to solely focus on the good in this review. Maybe that's not quite fair as there certainly were some aspects of the author's writing style that could use some improvement (such as a few passages that became a bit too expository when certain characters were recounting their history to Flavia), but I just don't care. There will be a chance for me to discuss that next time.

The subject matter the mystery revolved around are two hobbies I probably could not care less about: stamp collecting and magicians. But I was still kept engaged in the mystery. Enough information was given about each to understand their value and importance to the story, but I wasn't bogged down with useless knowledge that put me to sleep. Finding that balance can be difficult for authors writing for an audience that isn't going to be familiar with the subject.

Similarly, the audience wasn't inundated with irrelevant historical detail about the war. It was made clear that the effects of World War II were still felt in every day life in 1950s England, and the extent to which those effects shaped every aspect of Flavia's world was pressed upon us, but never was the audience subjected to a tangential history lecture. Instead, the atmosphere of Post War England and all that implied was delivered through Flavia herself: her voice, her values, her actions, and her relationships.

Flavia's voice was the best part of the book for me, and it's that above anything else that's compelling me to anticipate the rest of the series. She came alive on the page, just the mix of precocious, stubborn, and self important. She struggled with being the baby of the family, and the neglect and patronizing that came with it. She became quite indignant when she wasn't taken seriously or when under estimated. Yet at the same time, her childish qualities shone through and she could become quite the little beast when dealing with her sisters or the cook. I loved when Mrs. Mullet admitted to being quite aware of the de Luce's hatred for custard pie, and that she had been taking them home to her husband all these long years. All of a sudden Mrs. Mullet became a real person instead of just the dithering old lady Flavia had led us to believe her. Flavia's a bit unreliable in that way, so the reader has to be careful not to put all their faith in Miss de Luce.

Flavia's characterization often brought to mind the character of a young Briony Tallis from Ian McEwan's Atonement. She didn't remind me of Briony so much as she offered herself as a counterpoint (or perhaps in Miss de Luce's own vocabulary: an antidote). Briony is representative of a Pre War England. She is literature and poetry, romantic and idealistic. She is a child, an innocent, and is unable to grasp the gray in the world. Flavia, on the other hand, is England after the Blitz. She's been through the war and come out the other side. She is chemistry and poison, truth and rationality. Her eleven years old is more worldly than Miss Tallis could  have been. After her matter of fact discussion with Ned and Mary regarding Mary's brief attack in the bedroom, I'd be interested to see how Flavia would have reacted to all Briony witnessed. I've a sneaking suspicion life might have turned out quite differently for Cecilia and Robbie.

I feel I may have just gotten off topic...

I may be rating this just a tad high. It should probably only rate a 4, but I am going to be grateful for sometime to Alan Bradley and Miss Flavia de Luce for pulling me out of the book pit I had fallen in to. It's good to be back.


1 comment:

Nick Adler said...

ha ha ha....I was using my daughter's bathroom just a minute ago...and this book was on the counter top. Then, randomly blogging, I see this book review. Karma has errupted, now must read this book.